News & Views

Episode 27: Who Will Win $1.6 Billion Toyota/Mazda Plant? Site Consultants Speculate


On August 4, 2017, the presidents of Toyota and Mazda held a joint press conference and announced they had formed a joint-venture to construct a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in the United States. US governors and their economic development chiefs were hot on the trail of a prize that promised 4,000 direct jobs to the winning state.

The Project tackles this high-profile search in two parts. First we speak to Dean Barber, Principal at Barber Business Advisors for his take on the Toyota/Mazda Project and where it will land. But we also share the findings of a DCI survey of 70 site selection consultants for their best guess at the winning state.

Nicole D’Souza (Impact Data Source): Hey, “The Project” listeners. It’s Nicole D’Souza from Impact DataSource. I’d like to extend an invite for you to check out our podcast, “Economic Development Secrets.” Every month, economic developers from across the country share their tricks of the trade, exciting projects, and innovative economic development ideas. From rural to urban, business recruitment to business retention, we’ll hear great advice from your state and local peers and learn new approaches in this constantly evolving field. You can check out “Economic Development Secrets” on iTunes, SoundCloud, and

Andy Levine (DCI): On August 4th, the presidents of Toyota and Mazda announced they had formed a joint venture to construct a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in the United States.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Donald Trump praised the move as a great investment in American manufacturing, in a 3:00 a.m. tweet, and US governors and their economic development chiefs were hot on the trail of a prize that promised 4000 direct jobs to the winning state.

Andy: So welcome to Episode 27 of “The Project,” inside corporate location decisions. I’m Andy Levine, of Development Counselors International.

Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother, also with DCI, and Andy’s co-host of “The Project.”

Andy: So about two weeks ago, Patience and I sat down, and we tried to figure out how we might report on this high-profile location search.

Patience: We knew Toyota wouldn’t speak with us. We knew Mazda wouldn’t speak with us, and we knew Jones Lang LaSalle, who’s the consultant guiding the search, wouldn’t speak with us either.

Andy: And it was about this time that I came across a blog post written by a friend named Dean Barber, and it was titled, “Where Will the $1.6 Billion Toyota/Mazda Project Land?” Dean has an interesting background. He’s a former business reporter and editor, turned economic developer, turned site-selection consultant. He’s an excellent writer, and he finds the time to pen a weekly blog titled, “Barber Biz.”

Patience: So lo and behold, when we were thinking about this, Dean posted a second blog post, a part two of his original blog, and in the post, Dean basically handicapped the states identified as competing for the project.

Andy: And that led to an idea. Why don’t we survey DCI’s location advisors’ dot-net database of about 400 site-selection consultants, real estate brokers, other key influencers, and ask them who they picked to win the Toyota/Mazda plant?

Patience: So that’s exactly what we did. We’re going to handle this episode in two parts. First, we’re going to hear from a conversation that Andy and Dean had last week about his perceptions of the Toyota/Mazda project. Then I’m going to interview Steve Duncan, DCI’s Vice President of Lead Generation, who will share the findings of our survey of 70 consultants from the location advisors’ dot-net database.

Andy: So here are the highlights of my interview with Dean Barber. Dean, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dean Barber (Barber Advisors): Pleasure to be here.

Andy: All right. So Dean, I want to take you back to two blogs that you recently wrote on your blog post, which, by the way, is excellent. It’s “Barber Biz.” You talked about two blog posts where you talked about, “Where will the $1.6 billion Toyota/Mazda plant land?” You have a great line in your blog post where you say…I want to quote this correctly. “When you mix politics and site-selection factors, you’re capable of getting a bit of a strange brew.” So let’s start by talking about your sort of assessment of the political equation of this search.

Dean: Yes. I think this…The Corolla was to be built at a plant currently under construction in Mexico. I think that plant comes online in 2019. I think that the Trump administration’s pretty hard line on renegotiating NAFTA has something to do with now this…Now the Corolla will be built at a plant in the United States. I think NAFTA has something to do with that. Toyota will deny that. Ford denied it when they reversed…They were building a construction site in central Mexico, and now…and they shifted production to the United States. These car companies will deny it, but I think it’s very much linked to NAFTA negotiations.

Andy: So that brings the plant from Mexico to the US, but the point of your column, of course, tries to figure out where in the US. Talk about the political considerations there, from Toyota’s and Mazda’s perspective.

Dean: Well, I mean, this is just pure conjection on my part. I have no inside information. All I’m doing is looking at what Toyota has done in the past. In the past, they have 11 plants, and they’ve situated them in 8 states. That tells me that they want to spread the love, so to speak, at a time when NAFTA and trade is under considerate…is being revisited. Toyota probably believes it needs friends in Washington. That means congressional delegations.

So I believe the whole premise of these blogs are I believe that Toyota will likely choose a state where it’s not…where it currently does not have manufacturing operations. I believe it’ll take place east of the Mississippi because of most of their existing supply lines.

Andy: Okay. Okay. That makes sense. We’re gonna come back to that, and we’re gonna have you sort of handicap a couple of different states in an interesting way in a moment. But the other thing you said in your writing, and this sort of relates to states that do not have major auto manufacturers in them already, is you said there’s a certain appeal to being a big fish in a small pond. Talk about that, from Toyota’s perspective.

Dean: Yeah, it’s not just Toyota, but a lot of companies feel that way. They feel that they can have more influence, not just on local and state politics. They can probably…When you’re a big fish in a little pond, you get your way more often, and people will…Those states and those communities will cater more to your desires, your wants and needs.

Andy: So that would tend to favor states like North Carolina and Iowa, ones that don’t have a major OEM?

Dean: That’s right. I would be surprised if it goes to Iowa, but I could be very, very much wrong on this. North Carolina has certainly, as I’ve called it, the bridesmaid but never the bride. They’ve been after an OEM plant for a decade or more, and they have big mega sites. They got at least four in the state. So I think they’re in a pretty good…And they have a lot of suppliers. They have 300 automotive suppliers. I think they’re set up pretty well.

Andy: All right. Well, we’re gonna come back to North Carolina in a moment. But sort of inspired by your two blog posts, DCI went out, and we surveyed 70 top site-selection consultants around the country, and we asked them where they thought the Toyota/Mazda plant would go. We used the Wall Street Journal’s reporting of 11 states that were reported to be contenders for this. I want to share with you the top three findings, the top three states that the consultants selected. Some of them, you agree with. Some of them, you disagree with, but I want to go through them, one-by-one. The first state to come through was Texas, at 22.5%. This sort of went against your thinking.

Dean: Well, they’ve already got the corporate headquarters in Plano, which is a suburb community north of Dallas. They’ve had a very good successful plant, making Tundra and Tacoma, down in San Antonio. You know, it could be Texas. But if you look at their history, again, I don’t think they will put a second assembly plant. Texas has the space for it, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen, based on their history of, I call it, spreading the love, but it’s really about building political capital. I think they need it right now.

Andy: Okay. Well, 22.5% of the consultants said Texas was number one. Number two was North Carolina, which is the state that you thought had the best chance in this. Make the case for North Carolina, why you think things are gonna go North Carolina’s way in this case.

Dean: Well, they’re east of the Mississippi. Most of the American population is east of the Mississippi. I would…I don’t have the figures on the Corolla, but I would believe that most small cars will be sold east of the Mississippi. Most of their supply lines are east of the Mississippi. They’re not…There is no big…There is no OEM assembly plant in North Carolina. It’s a swing state, and it has…but it has 300 automotive suppliers. It’s got good transportation infrastructure. It’s got a 3% corporate tax rate, the lowest in the country. I think North Carolina makes a lot of sense.

Andy: Third on the consultants list, and this was 14.1% of the consultants coming in here, they said South Carolina, which was another state you felt favorable on, but also felt there was some problems for South Carolina to win this.

Dean: Yeah, it’s…I think the neighborhood is just too crowded. It’s a small state. I like South Carolina’s manufacturing climate. I think it’s among the best in the country. Very good economic developers. But in a small state, it has BMW, which is a behemoth, the largest BMW plant in the world. It’s got Boeing, and it’s got Volvo. Plant is under construction near Charleston. I just don’t see it happening in a small state. I think the neighborhood is crowded. I don’t think they need their political voice in South Carolina.

Andy: Okay. Now there was one state that you suggested in your second blog post. It was the state of Georgia. It was not on the Wall Street Journal’s initial list. But once again, sometimes even publications like the Wall Street Journal get it wrong. Tell us what you like about Georgia as a location for Toyota/Mazda.

Dean: Well, Georgia has one OEM assembly plant near the Alabama line, in West Georgia. Kia’s been there since maybe 2011. So it’s one of the newer…It’s one of the newer assembly plants, but Georgia has a history of going after the big projects. They just…Some states just have a history of being aggressive and going after the big projects, and Georgia is one of them. They have five interstates. The most prominent is north and south, and I-75 goes down to Florida, goes north into Tennessee. They’ve got one of the best worker training programs in the country. I just think Georgia is a favorable climate for automotive.

Andy: The final question I wanted to ask you is…This is a little bit in the hindsight of the Fox Con decision in Wisconsin. Do you think the Trump administration will have any influence on where this project lands?

Dean: Well, they already have, in a sense. I don’t think they’re going to be pushing any individual state. Again, I think the automotive companies will deny it, but I believe the search is in the United States because of NAFTA. So to that extent, they already have, but I don’t think the Trump administration…This is gonna be a decision by a Mazda…by a Toyota/Mazda/JLL team, and I don’t think the Trump administration can influence or will attempt to.

Andy: Okay. Well, as Chuck Todd always says on “Meet the Press,” I think that’s a good place to end it. Dean, thank you so much for being with us on “The Project” today.

Dean: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

Patience: So that’s Andy’s interview with Dean Barber. Let’s switch gears and speak to Steve Duncan, to get his perspective on the survey of site consultants. So Steve, thank you for being a special guest on “The Project.”

Steve Duncan (DCI): Yes. Happy to be here.

Patience: So we already heard Andy’s conversation with Dean. So we know that the top three states selected by the consultants were Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But you’ve had a chance to analyze those results a little bit more deeply. Can you talk us through some of your main takeaways after taking a look at the consultant survey?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. I thought it was interesting that Texas and South Carolina were both among the leaders, of course, but it was because of their existing concentration of major automotive companies. In Texas’ situation, Toyota itself, moving their headquarters there recently, but it was more the draw of the cluster effect that a lot of these consultants had chosen those two locations. Whereas North Carolina…Everyone that had really responded with them as a number one choice felt that the lack of a presence of a major OEM, specifically Toyota, would actually work in their favor. So it was almost 50/50, in terms of the responses, where half the group felt that the existing cluster presence would be a benefit, and the other half felt that the lack of a cluster presence would be a benefit.

Patience: So it sounds a little bit like the consultants are aligned with Dean in their thinking about North Carolina, because he also thought that the lack of a presence of an OEM was a benefit, but they’re actually kind of…They’re actually taking the opposite viewpoint in a certain way than Dean took, on both Texas and South Carolina.

Steve: Absolutely. When you look at some of the deeper numbers…So you go beyond the top three, and I was actually surprised to see Indiana was the fourth most-frequent state that came up. Again, that was, you know, some of the cluster effect. The fact that there is a strong supply chain there, supply chain was really a consistent factor across every one of the states that was selected here.

That actually brings up another interesting point that I think is a challenge for some states and their marketing team and their business development team, is we saw a lot of the same reasons being cited as why one state would win over another, but they were a lot of the same reasons. You know, strong supply chain, talented workforce, low cost. Those were cited for, you know, six or seven different states here, as one of the reasons why the consultants thought that they would win. So that was an interesting takeaway, just in terms of, you know, each consultant, just as I’m sure each company really looks at things, Key messages that a state may have out there really resonates differently with different people, based on, I think, their own experience at the end of the day.

Patience: So you mentioned Indiana as being an interesting fourth choice. Was that maybe the most interesting wild card to you? Or were there any others that were kind of surprising to you, that were selected?

Steve: We got a couple of folks that chose Illinois, and I think one of them had cited a former Mitsubishi plant that would be a great place for Toyota to move in and be operational almost on day one. You know, there are some supply chain and infrastructure advantages to Illinois as well, close to the Midwest. Perhaps they might be a little more aggressive, given some of the difficult situations that Illinois has gone through in recent years. Certainly not the top state for business, as noted by most people. So maybe that makes them a little more aggressive in this negotiation process. So Illinois was probably the farthest away from what I expected, that showed up on here, and two people actually selected it.

Georgia got a couple of…Georgia got one write-in vote. We heard Dean talk about Georgia being a possibility earlier. So we had a couple other consultants that mentioned Georgia as their second pick also. So that was another interesting wild card that I know hasn’t maybe been as publicized, but could certainly sneak in here as well.

Patience: So Steve, we’ve heard where Dean Barber thinks the project will land, and we’ve heard where these 70 consultants will land. So if you were a betting man, where would you say that the plant is going to end up?

Steve: Absolutely. I really have a strong sense that North Carolina makes sense. I think Dean really laid out the reasons why, in a perfect way. The lack of an OEM right now, combined with all those other factors, like a strong supply chain network. There’s just so many reasons North Carolina makes sense, when you go across political reasons, business reasons, logistical reasons, all of those things. I think they stand a really, really good chance here.

Patience: So there you have it. Steve Duncan, Dean Barber, and many consultants, I don’t know what the number is, all think North Carolina is likely going to win the project.

Andy: So that is a wrap on Episode 27 of “The Project,” inside corporate location decisions.

Patience: Of course, we want to thank Dean Barber and all of the site-selection consultants and advisors that responded to the, “Who Will Win Toyota/Mazda” survey. Special thanks to Steve Duncan for being the special presenter on “The Project.”

Andy: By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a subscriber to, DCI’s database of 400-plus consultants, we encourage you to visit and sign up for a complementary two-week subscription.

Patience: “The Project” is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at

Andy: We hope you’ll keep listening. There are many more projects in the year ahead.

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